Exhibition – Otto Mueller (1874 – 1930) in Emden, Germany

During my stay in Germany, I went to the exhibition of Otto Mueller (1874 – 1930), a german expressionist and member of the group ‘Die Bruecke‘ in Kunsthalle Emden (http://kunsthalle-emden.de/mueller/).

The title of the exhibition was ‘Otto Mueller – natuerlich nackt (naturally naked)

Otto Mueller was an important artist of the German Expressionism. He joined 1910 the group ‘Die Bruecke‘ (The Bridge)‘ founded by four architecture students Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Erick Heckel, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff and Fritz Beyl in 1905. Later other artist as Max Pechstein and Emil Nolde joined the group temporarily. The group aimed at revolting against middle-class conventions and to establish a radical new style of painting. One main theme besides landscapes were figurative and especially nude figurative painting. Main elements are strong and bold colour use and simple forms. One main technique applied by the group was woodcut prints which were published together in an annual reports. There are some relationships to the french originated ‘Fauve‘ group (expressive and spontaneous paint application, bold colour use). The group, with no professional education as painters, were strongly influenced by emotional sentiment and anxiety and they took reference to primitive art as well as some medieval German art. The group dissolved in 1913 as the members showed more and more their individual styles and Kirchner proclaimed himself as the leader of the group against the wish of the others. (Chilvers, 2009).

One aspect that is coming across the shown work by Otto Mueller is the relationship of human and nature. At times with quite a sentimental mood Mueller depicts mostly female nudes in natural context. Main theme is ‘bathing’. To take a bath was quite popular in Germany at that time and the Northsea and the Baltic sea bath locations became a cultural sport for the middle class. At the same time bathing naked as a revolt against middle class conventions – and by law forbidden – became a habit and later a cult in Germany.

In contrast to his other colleagues who were more interested in radical provocation and criticism of social conventions, Mueller was more interested in the union of nature and humanity within an arcadian sphere conveying the sense of an idyll.

At times the paintings do remind me of Paul Gauguin’s depiction of the beauty and idyll of Tahiti.

  • Zwei Badende Mädchen (Two Bathing Girls)‘, 1921

Otto Mueller_Zwei Badende Maedchen_1921sm
– ‘Sechs Maedchenakte am Strand (Six Female Nudes on the shore)‘, 1913

Otto Mueller_Sechs Maedchenakte am Strand_1913sm


Otto Mueller’s used for his paintings mostly glue tempera paint – distemper (‘Leimfarben‘) – on coarse canvas (jute, ‘Rupfen‘). The exact constitution of the paint is not known. Recent analysis reported a mix of animal glue, egg and mixed oil.

I could see that the entire canvas was covered with paint – a white wash obviously from  a chalky paint. I was wondering what it would do if some of the raw canvas would have shown through? A topic that fascinates me (see my still life painting in oil from part 2 – click here)

The bodies, mostly shown from side or the back – are rather symbolic. Bold outlines, at times with rather straight lines or in square shapes. According to the text accompanying the exhibition Mueller was fascinated by Lucas Cranach the Elder and ancient Egyptian art.

In the negative space repetition of broad strokes of leaves. At times the heads are over proportional large.

Another example for repetition of shapes and lines:  body and the dunes in the background:
– ‘In Duenen liegender Akt (Reclining model in the Dunes)‘, 1923



This exhibition showed in the context of a theme ‘Bathing naked’ a variety of Otto Mueller’s works. Besides his paintings there were several of his graphic works on display. Some woodcuts and more lithographs. I found the lithographs quite appealing as they do resemble quite well with his paintings: Similar colour expression and similar  form and atmosphere depiction.
– ‘Am Ufer sitzendes Maedchen Akt im Schilf (‘Girl on the shore among the reeds), 1922-26


From my current perspective I find those paintings rather sketchy, the lithograph perhaps quite illustrative.

What I take away from this:

  • Painting on raw canvas and variety of paint (tempera, glue) can give a different visual effect
  • A repetition of lines and shapes on the human body and the surrounding space can give a sense of unity.
Stefan513593 - sketchbook 1

Stefan513593 – sketchbook 1

The museum had some other works on show and I browsed around and felt attracted by the following two works.

Stefan513593 - sketchbook 2

Stefan513593 – sketchbook 2

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (1880 – 1938) also member of the group ‘Die Bruecke
– ‘Stehender Akt (Standing model)‘,
=> it reminds me of some drawings by Frank Auerbach with lines that search for form. Here with washes of colour to add areas of a context. The combination of lines and colour spots in kind of multilayered approach is fascinating for me. Besides Frank Auerbach I feel some further inspiration to look back at works by Jenny Saville. (see my blog posts)

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner_Stehender Akt_1914sm


Cornelius Voelker (b. 1965)
– ‘Pulli (Sweater)‘, 2000
another painting of the series as [online image] Available from: http://www.cornelius-voelker.de/pics/pulli-1.jpg [accessed 29 July 2016]

=> A figurative painting in front of a black background, showing the process of unclothing. The for me fascinating part if the juxtaposition of the rather realistically rendered body and the rough abstract depiction of the sweater in thick paint. Visible strokes are conveying a sense of movement. What I like is that combination and juxtaposition.  It shows what painting can do. A quite bodily approach and the thick paint. What reminds me of the painting practice of the british painter group of Frank Auerbach, R.B.Kitaj, and  Euan Uglow.
Although Voelker’s paintings have a strong visual effect and he makes even a series of the theme ‘Sweater’ I do have the feeling that those paintings are rather showing one effect as a technical competence (?). I am wondering if something is missing – after a while I feel the effect is gone and the painting turns ‘dead’.

For me to reflect about this in my own work – whether one painting techniques that delivers one visual effect – is enough for an appealing and engaging painting.

Another painting that I came across in the museum is

Sonia Delaunay (1885 – 1979)
– ‘Deux Fillettes Finlandais‘, 1907
=> a painting that lives from its complementary colour use (blue-orange and red-green )  quite in the context of Chevreul’s colour concepts. The painting of a domestic scene at a table. The scene is cropped and by that the viewer is more involved in the situation. This work conveys a real freshness in its simplicity.

Sonia Delaunay_Deux Fillettes Finlandais_1907sm



  • Chilvers, I. (2009) The Oxford dictionary of art and artists (Oxford paperback reference). 4th edn. New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Schaffeld, S (weblog post 16 Dez 2014 ) ‘Exhibition Jenny Saville and Egon Schiele’, Available from: http://ocalog.stefanschaffeld.com/?p=560
  • Schaffeld, S (weblog post, 10 Aug 2015) ‘Exhibition Frank Auerbach’ Available from:   http://ocalog.stefanschaffeld.com/?p=2486

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: